[[caption-width-right:276:All Under Heaven.]]

Qin Shi Huangdi (259-210 BC) is the founder of the [[UsefulNotes/DynastiesFromShangToQing Qin Dynasty]], [[TheEmperor first Emperor]] of China, and depending on who you ask, either one of the most ruthless despots in history whose name would become a byword for tyranny, the exemplary Emperor who united the fractured Warring States and brought a standardized system of characters, measurements and language, amongst other sweeping reforms, and lay the groundwork of the millennia of stability and prosperity that brought China to the forefront of world powers, both, or anything in between. The very poster boy of AlternativeCharacterInterpretation, as it were. In Chinese historiography, he was commonly mentioned together with Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, "Qin Huang Han Wu" (秦皇汉武). In fact, some historians theorized that Emperor Wu would have led the Han to ruin, if he had not reflected on his mistakes late in his reign.

He was born Ying Zheng (嬴政), the son of a young concubine given as a present to the king of Qin by the scheming merchant Lü Buwei (who may have been his biological father, at least according to Han Dynasty propaganda). China was at the time in the throes of the Warring States era, when the impotent Zhou Dynasty had disintegrated into several rival kingdoms, and the state of Qin had emerged as a power to be reckoned with. He became king in 247 BC and, advised by Legalist philosopher Li Si, he turned Qin into a quasi-totalitarian military powerhouse and embarked on a campaign of conquest to reunify all of China under his rule. He annexed other kingdoms one after the other and, in 221 BC, Ying Zheng declared himself First August Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (Qin Shi Huangdi).

He ruled China with an iron fist and ruthlessly crushed any opposition, applying the precepts of Legalism, which holds that a monarch must reign through fear and that the law must be enforced without pity in order to scare the populace into submission. While certainly ruthless, however, it should be noted that Ying Zheng was not corrupt or inept: A workaholic, he implemented a series of policies standardizing currency, language, weights and measures, and even the width of carriage axles, and in so doing created 'China' as we would hence know it. He was also responsible for the Qin Empire abolishing feudalism and adopting a state bureaucracy based on law more than a thousand years before the first European kingdom ever did so. [[note]]However, it must be noted that the tendency to adopt feudalism did not immediately go away. During the Han Dynasty, a dual system of feudalism and state bureaucracy was implemented. This dual system lasted until Emperor Wu, who greatly curbed feudalism during his reign.[[/note]] He ordered the construction of the Great Wall to protect the empire's northern frontiers against barbarian attacks. To abolish history, he had all books burnt save those containing useful technical information, and then ordered a mass execution of scholars for good measure. He did actually keep ''one'' copy of each destroyed book in his own library for the ruler's use in case it contained anything useful to him or future monarchs; however, [[{{Irony}} this library was destroyed]] in the fires that ravaged the imperial capital at Xianyang after Xiang Yu's armies captured it in 206 BCE. (Qin Shihuang is therefore more or less singlehandedly responsible for making Chinese works no older than OlderThanFeudalism--outside of some tropeless oracle bones and bronzes, everything OlderThanDirt went up in smoke.)

Traditionally featured in children's tales as an extreme caricature of a corrupt tyrant, it is only until recently that history has approached a fair perspective of his rule. Since then, he is now a divisive figure, ranging from a tyrant who is DrunkOnPower and obsessed with immortal life, to the paragon of a ruler who, although grandiose and extravagant, nonetheless created the concept of China out of a bunch of squabbling, fractured states, and whose staggering casualty rate is but the natural result of sweeping reforms that ended up benefiting thousands of generations after at the cost of the current one.

Just a small caveat: the so-called "Confucians" that were buried alive, grisly as that act was, were actually wizards (fangshi; 方士) who were put in charge of concocting an elixir of immortality, according to some other sources. Since Confucianism and Legalism were polar opposites (the former declares that education and cultural immersion should be the way to achieve state order and prosperity, while the latter emphasizes that the law should be upheld in absolute terms for the same thing to happen) and thus political rivals, as one of Legalism's greatest champions Qin Shihuangdi was essentially subject to a massive HistoricalVillainUpgrade. Needless to say, such an endeavour was doomed from the start, but it would remain a fascination for many emperors and occultists to come.

A big part of Qin Shihuangdi's image issues is that official Chinese historiography always tended to sing the praises of the predecessor dynasty's early rulers, while then painting the later ones in the darkest colours possible. This was used to justify the incumbent dynasty's rule or ownership of the Mandate of Heaven. However, because the Qin was so short-lived, and yet set a precedent, later historians would vilify its founder right away. New archeological findings (such as legal codes) show the Qin dynasty to be much more "mainstream" than the crypto-totalitarian legalistic dystopia it has been depicted as. In more recent years, Shi Huangdi has been increasingly depicted as the founding father of China who forged an orderly unified state out of chaos through force and foresight by the official state propaganda in both the KMT state of the Republic of China and the CCP-ruled People's Republic.

One thing that is not in dispute, however, is Qin Shihuang's later-reign obsession with immortality, both literal and figurative. In search of the former, he began taking supposedly life-extending treatments recommended by Imperial alchemists; while some of these, like wood-ear and cloud-ear fungi, are fairly harmless (and tasty), many such treatments involved mercury compounds. You read that correctly; ancient Chinese alchemists thought that a heavy metal that drives you insane before killing you was part of the recipe for eternal life. Perhaps it's no surprise then that the emperor grew [[RoyallyScrewedUp gradually more paranoid]] in his later life (paranoia being a prime symptom of chronic mercury poisoning) and then died after taking a pill containing pure mercury as part of his immortality treatments (death being a prime symptom of acute mercury poisoning).

In the figurative department, Qin Shihuang oversaw the construction of his future mausoleum. According to historian Sima Qian, this project required drafting a slave workforce of 700,000 people. The mausoleum was erected in a secret location and was only discovered in 1976. Within three years of his death, the third and last king of Qin was killed by Xiang Yu. Another 4 years of warfare continued, until Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty in 202 B.C..

Another of his mistakes which is not in dispute is his handling of the succession. By not having a crown prince, and a dismissive attitude towards his officials, upon his death, two such officials (Li Si, who was then Prime Minister, and the eunuch Zhao Gao) decided to nominate Ying Zheng's younger son Hu Hai as the next emperor instead of his elder son, Fu Su. The silent coup also killed the Meng brothers (Meng Tian and Meng Yi), who were allies of Fu Su. The most galling details were the methods used by Li and Zhao to conceal the fact that Ying Zheng had died. Firstly, Li Si ordered that two carts containing rotten fish be carried immediately before and after the emperor's wagon. (The idea was to prevent people from noticing the foul smell emanating from the Emperor's wagon, where his body was starting to decompose severely as it was summertime.) The shade was also pulled down, so that no one could see his face; servants continued to change his clothes daily, and bring food.
%%!!Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

!!Qin Shi Huangdi appears in the following works:


[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* The manga ''{{Manga/Kingdom}}'' starred him in his endeavor to unify China with the help of [[IdiotHero Xin]], a Qin General.


[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* Doesn't appear on page, but is namedropped in ''ComicBook/TheUnwritten'' during a sequence that shows [[spoiler:TimeAbyss and ProfessionalKiller Pullman carrying out his edicts to destroy all knowledge not approved by him and kill the scholars]].
* In ''Boxers'' section of ''ComicBook/BoxersAndSaints'', the Boxer Rebellion is powered by members of The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists channeling Chinese spirits and legends to go into SuperMode. The main character of that section, Little Bao, is eventually revealed to be channeling Qin himself. This version of Qin (usually rendered as Ch'in) is the subject of DeliberateValuesDissonance, both to potential readers and, ultimately, to Bao. While he genuinely desires to restore China to order and harmony, he is [[TheUnfettered devoted to this purpose above all moral constraints]], ultimately abandoning the protagonist when he cannot become as ruthless as the First Emperor.


[[folder: Film ]]

* ''Film/TheEmperorAndTheAssassin''
* ''Film/{{Hero}}''
* ''Film/TheMummyTombOfTheDragonEmperor''


[[folder: Literature ]]

* ''Literature/BridgeOfBirds'', although as the novel uses an older transliteration for stylistic effect, he's called the Duke of Ch'in.
* ''The Chinese Emperor'' by Jean Levi is a fictionalized biography of Qin Shihuangdi.
* A NoCelebritiesWereHarmed version of him, One Sun Mirror, features as the first emperor of the Agatean Empire in the ''Literature/{{Discworld}}'' novel ''Discworld/InterestingTimes''. Here, his terracotta warriors were basically terracotta automatons, which could be controlled by someone with the appropriate equipment.


[[folder: Live Action Television ]]

* The ''Series/HistoryBites'' episode "The Not-So-Great Wall of China"
* In ''Series/AStepIntoThePast'', with a major twist in which Chien Poon, a member of the Zhao royal family becomes Ying Ching, because of several entanglements.


[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* ''TabletopGame/WraithTheOblivion'' has it so that Qin Shi Huang made good use of those terracotta soldiers and took over the Dark Kingdom of Jade, the Chinese quarter of the Shadowlands. [[spoiler: And then it turns out he was destroyed some time ago, and [[HumanoidAbomination something else]] has been ruling with his face.]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Scion}}'': The Celestial Bureaucracy were not pleased by what Qinshihuang did to China, or his attempts to achieve immortality, so they consigned him to an IronicHell: ruler and sole inhabitant of an Underworld replica of China.


[[folder: Video Games ]]

* One of the two possible leaders of the Chinese in ''VideoGame/{{Civilization}} IV'' (alongside UsefulNotes/MaoZedong). Amusingly for a leader famous for conquering, he's actually rather easier to get along with than Mao (although truth be told, both Chinese leaders are fairly easygoing) and is no more likely to attack you than the average leader.
** Returns as the Chinese leader in the sixth installment. Here, he aggressively builds wonders and hates anyone else that builds wonders, especially ones he was working on. He can use builder charges to build 15% of an early-game wonder, and all of his workers get an extra build charge. The Great Wall is no longer a world wonder, and is now a unique Chinese tile improvement that acts similarly to a fort, and extra gold for adjacent wall segments.
* In ''VideoGame/AssassinsCreedII'', it's stated that Qin Shi Huang was killed by a member of the Assassins.
* ''Literature/WillOfHeaven''
* In ''VideoGame/WorldOfWarcraft'', Lei Shen, the BigBad of ''Mist of Pandaria'', whose backstory is inspired on Qin Shihuang Di.
* Franchise/IndianaJones is tasked with helping uncover his tomb in ''VideoGame/IndianaJonesAndTheEmperorsTomb''. Legend has it that a black pearl with mystical powers, the Heart of the Dragon, is buried with him.
* ''VideoGame/HiddenExpedition:The Eternal Emperor'' starts off with an archaeological expedition venturing into his tomb.
* ''VideoGame/JadeEmpire'' is set in a vaguely Chinese-flavored fantasy world, so the literal First Emperor does not show up, but the villainous [[GodEmperor Emperor Sun]] is obviously inspired by his story.


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* While Qin Shi Huang does not physically appear in ''WesternAnimation/JackieChanAdventures'', his "legendary lost treasure" is at some point prior to the series obtained by BigBad and Fire Demon Sorcerer Shendu, and it's the reward Shendu promises the Dark Hand in return for retrieving the Talismans needed to resurrect him. He denies them the treasure, however, and their attempt to subsequently steal it leads Jackie Chan's niece to Shendu's palace and allows her to interrupt Shendu's victory over Jackie and immediately defeat him, destroying the treasure in the process.
* ''WesternAnimation/WhereOnEarthIsCarmenSandiego'': One episode had Carmen creating an ultimate chess set by stealing a lot of statues and even four castle turrets for the rooks. She stole sixteen clay soldier statues from Qin Shi Haungdi's tomb for the pawns.
* ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'' has an {{Expy}} of the First Emperor in Chin the Conqueror, a warrior prince who unites almost the entire [[FarEast Earth Kingdom]] under his rule, and whose depiction strongly resembles the traditional portraits of Shi Huangdi.